– cashmere

After many phone calls & emails, I created this email text to send rather than re state to all those that were in touch. I gather it has been published in Scotland, Queensland, Auckland & New York

Subject: 22-2-11

Mother Nature in all her splendour & beauty can be a proper bitch sometimes. Everyone has a story of where they were & what happened at 12-51pm 22 February 2011. Here’s mine….

It was a typically busy day at work & I had several jobs to attend to around the City. One of my last jobs for the morning was at Price Waterhouse Cooper building level 19, just a little after midday. Their reception windows look north across the city & the glass is floor to ceiling. My knees always weaken when I stand close & look out across the Avon River, PGG Wrightson building & others. Concluding my business, I felt the hair prickle on my spine recalling the quake Sept 4th & thought how I’d hate to be up here if another struck.

I went home for a poached egg about 12-30, fed the fish, then rushed back to work for a 1-00 meeting. As I pulled out of our street & then on to Centaurus Road by the Heathcote River, the steering wheel pulled hard to one side & I could clearly see the road rising & falling in a wave motion, perhaps 500mm high. I braked gently. At this same time, the concrete guttering either side of me appeared to explode upwards sending a white powder & pieces of stone high into the air as if stuck by a mortar shell. The sound of this & the quake was not unlike a jet engine at take off. Seconds later, the Heathcote River sent up a 4 to 5 meter wave that sloshed over the roadside. Normally, a quiet picturesque slow flowing river, it was now boiling white & ejecting what looked like large surfing waves.

A small group of pedestrians nearby were soaked as they lay, fell or knelt on the footpath. A large dog barked incessantly & ran in crazy circles. Clouds of white dust appeared like a ghostly apparition from all directions as properties collapsed (mostly chimneys, walls & brick veneer) all around me.. Bricks & masonry lay across footpaths & roads wherever I looked. The narrow vehicle bridge across the River lay at a crazy angle having leaped from its moorings to land askew. White masonry dust created a lazy haze where much of the carnage occurred, turning shrubs & bushes into ghostly white apparitions.

I could sense this was a big one, and with heart pounding, returned home slowly driving around debris, crevasses, burst water mains, liquefaction & stunned residents.

Our driveway was blocked as a western brick wall had collapsed completely over it. I could see a sea of sparkling diamonds across our driveway & parking area where glass had fallen from above. The house showed several large cracks in the external walls & deep cracks across the driveway.

Inside was utter chaos, the kitchen cupboards & pantry having ejected their contents onto the floor creating a colourful blurb of glass, preserves, olive oil – you name it. Stuff all over the place, bedrooms, lounge, hallways. Even drawer sets on their face, TV’s down, paintings… Almost everything.

Poor animals. Cat disappeared for a few hours & could only walk with his legs hooked up keeping his belly on the ground. Dearest Tinkerbelle jumped into my arms & shook continuously.

I tried to reach Cathy by phone, but the system appeared to have failed. It was some hours before we reunited & ascertained all other family members were OK.

I drove back to work through the carnage, a trip taking 45 minutes that usually takes 6. The road & housing carnage was appalling & the sight of liquefaction continuing to actively manifest was an unbelievable vision. Piles of dark grey sand squirting with water like small active volcanoes. They grew in height and circumference by the minute.

All staff had vacated our workplace. Most of the furniture, stock, desks, computers etc were on the floor. It was as if a maniac had run amok intent on destruction & vicious vandalism. How they succeeded.

An eerie silence permeated everywhere, other than the wailing of car alarms, building alarms & the emergence of rescue vehicles. Shocked pedestrians walked aimlessly & traumatised drivers negotiated their way home taking horrible risks avoiding silt, pot holes, crevasses & crazed animals..

Shortly after, the whomp whomp of civil & military helicopters reverberated above as early rescue attempts & surveillance got underway.

Back at home, family reunited & exchanged assurances of wellbeing. Water & power were off (for the following 8 days). Survival mode kicked in. So much to think about & do. Water collection, food preservation, toileting, others that may need help. We quickly discovered that ours, was only one of two in the street (of about 40), that remained intact & liveable.

The clean up inside was immense, so with all hands it was eventually achieved. Tricky trying to clean up without water though. Jim’s house a few blocks away was badly damaged. We took him home with us where he remains to this day. He’s doing well for 91 & contributes daily to our living chores with gardening, cleaning & workshop duties. Many broken things to fix…. Jim awaits a bed at Rannerdale war veterans retirement home.

As darkness fell, it was candles & torches until we final succumbed to exhausted sleep, fickle as it was through repeated aftershocks.

Morning brought shock realisation as we listened to radio reports of the loss & devastation. How we grieve for our beautiful city & those loved ones that have perished. Helicopters appear continuously shattering the dawn silence as news crews, civil defence & politicians take stock. It was almost a week before we saw TV & Press articles, so we were mostly reliant on telephone calls from family & friends outside the zone to learn the true horror and the fuller extent of loss. It still seems like a bad dream as we move forward charged by adrenaline, fear & an almost feral primeval motivation to survive. Exhaustion is constant. Uninterrupted sleep improbable. Food reserves diminishing as the freezer thaws. A constant need to check on frail neighbours – delivering thermos after thermos & meals for those unable to care fully for themselves. We were blessed with plenty of BBQ gas for hot water etc. Water was taken from toilet cisterns & a neighbours swimming pool.

Two weeks later, we have water & power. What a delicious privilege. Back at work for Cathy & I. Things will never be the same. It’s Business as Unusual.

Thank you for all the calls, thoughts, prayers, words of encouragement and support. We’ll be OK.
Much love
Chris & Cathy & co

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